The number of known executions around the world rose almost 15 percent in 2013, and theUnited States was among the five countries putting the most people to death, a new report says.
The Amnesty International report released Wednesday comes shortly after a stunning decision this week by an Egyptian court to sentence to death 529 alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood after a two-session trial. The London-based rights group has called the action "grotesque."
The new report said the 778 judicial executions in 22 countries the group was able to count last year don't include the thousands of people put to death in China, where such information is a state secret. China's foreign ministry referred a question about its executions last year to the justice ministry, which did not respond to phone or fax.
Last year's global increase is due in part to more executions in Iran and Iraq, followed by Saudi Arabia, the report said. The number of officially acknowledged executions in Iran was at least 369, but the rights group said "credible sources" reported 335 more. The group said Iraq executed at least 169 people.
Executions in chaotic Syria and Egypt could not be confirmed.
Amnesty International is blunt about its stance on the issue. "We oppose the death penalty in all cases, without exception," Jose Luis Diaz, the group's representative at the United Nations, told reporters Wednesday. "It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."
He also criticized this week's sweeping decision in Egypt, which he called "in recent history the largest number of death sentences handed down by a court at a single instance."
The Amnesty International report counted more than 23,000 people on death row worldwide as of the end of 2013. It also counted at least 1,925 people sentenced to death in 57 countries last year, up from the year before.
Amid the bleak numbers, the rights group pointed out that a small number of countries — about one in 10 — carry out executions, and 140 countries are against the death penalty either in law or actions.
"The overall data demonstrate that the trend is still firmly towards abolition," the report said. "Excluding China, almost 80 percent of all known executions worldwide were recorded in only three countries: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia." Both Europe and Central Asia had no reported executions, the first time since 2009.
Source: Christian Science Monitor